Welcoming the stranger…

I am heartsick today.

Why?

Because of the announcement from the White House that people from the Bahamas who make it to the United States–people who have lost everything and for whom the future of their country looks pretty hopeless right now…these people will not be given temporary protected status. That status would have allowed them the opportunity to live and work in the United States for a limited time frame–giving them the chance to earn the funds necessary to try to rebuild their lives. Apparently they will be allowed to live here–but not work.

This seems like just another example of this administration’s stated desire and intention to do away with allowing immigrants at all.

In fact, according to several news stories, there is under consideration a decision to completely dismantle a 40-year-old program that has admitted tens of thousands of people each year who are fleeing war, persecution and famine…or at the least to cut the numbers to 10,000 to 15,000 people, but reserve most of those spots for refugees from a few handpicked countries or groups with special status, such as Iraqis and Afghans who work alongside American troops, diplomats and intelligence operatives abroad.

All this at a time when we–and by we, I mean all governments–need to be looking seriously at how we can help vulnerable individuals.

We need to ask our leaders to consider how our meddling in other countries’ governments has helped to create the crises that individuals are fleeing.

We need to work together with other countries to find ways to help individuals whose lives have been upended by natural disasters.

We need to ask our leaders to develop policies that they are actually willing to live by–and that we are willing to accept and live by–that can help alleviate the conditions (both natural / climate and governmental) that create refugees.

But, in my opinion, most of all we need changed hearts.

Yes, there are serious issues that need to be addressed in our own country–whatever that country might be. But the world has become much more interconnected over the past decades…and what impacts one country has serious impacts on another.

We can try return to a time when we cared only for ourselves…when we did everything we could to keep the “foreigner” out. That never really worked.

Or we can open our hearts to see that the “foreigner” is our brother and sister. For those who claim the title “Christian” we can learn to see the “foreigner” as Jesus in disguise. We can learn to welcome the stranger as we would want to be welcomed.

Only if–and when–we are willing to do so will we be able to make a start on dealing with the conditions that impact us all…and create a world that will be good for all life.

 

 

 

To be molded…

Image result for clay on potters wheel

My brother-in-law in England is a potter…a very good one! When we visited him a number of years ago, he offered me an opportunity to try to “throw” a pot. I had never done that before–and it had always appeared to be fairly easy, so I jumped at the chance. Wow! By the time I finished, one side of my pot was quite thick…the other was very thin. There was no way that it would have made it through the kiln process and come out as any kind of a usable vessel.

At church this week, the children’s moment dealt with being molded. The slide on the screen was of a potter’s wheel with a simple (but beautiful) pot being thrown…and the children were each given a slab of clay to play with at home.

And I got to thinking about a campfire song I have always loved to sing:

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

What does that mean in my life?

Molding is not an easy process–for either the potter or for the clay. At least, in my experience trying it, the clay was rather resistant to what I wanted it to do–to the vision I had in my mind.

I wonder if that’s how God feels with us sometimes! God has a vision for us and the world we live in–but we tend to be resistant to it. We want to go our own way, do our own things.

If I really mean it when I ask God to “melt me [and] mold me,” I have to be willing to let go of what I think is best…willing to be broken in order to be remade into something so much better.

Otherwise I think I end up like the pot I tried throwing so many years ago…lopsided and unusable…not the beautiful thing the Creator envisions for me.

Who are we…really?

I thought I knew.

I mean, I knew that we have had some ugliness in our history–starting with how the first white settlers treated the native inhabitants. They came to this country fleeing persecution and seeking new lives for themselves and their children–but frequently and brutally mistreated the people who were already here…determined to wipe them out.

And we had the ugly stain of slavery, when we again chose to see people of a different color and religion as somehow “less than” those who had power and control. We even fought a war over that–but we are still struggling with the impact of those relationships.

Let’s not forget the lynchings that grew out of the post-war period–when slavery proponents were trying to find ways to keep former slaves “in their place.” Those lynchings aren’t ancient history. The last “official” lynching took place in 1968, although 30 years later, the death of James Byrd by being dragged behind a truck could fit the definition of lynching. And it wasn’t just men who were lynched. Women were as well–as was 14-year-old Emmett Till, whose “crime” was to whistle at a white woman.

We’ve also had the time when we were happy to have Chinese immigrants here to help build the railroad…to do the laundry of those trying to make their fortunes by digging gold. But we didn’t want them to be part of our society–not really.

There was also the time when we allowed our fears of “the other” to make it “permissible” to force Japanese-Americans into internment camps, simply because of their background, not because of any verifiable concerns.

And at the same time, we denied asylum to thousands of people fleeing genocide in their country of Germany because of their religion…and yet, we “adore” Anne Frank’s diary. Her father had tried to get his family to America for safety–but we made that impossible through our immigration restrictions.

I had thought and hoped that perhaps we were past that…that as we looked back at our history, we could see how ugly that was and we could move closer to what we have held up as our ideals.

But as I have watched these last few years, it sometimes seems like we have learned nothing from our history.

Yes, we have had our first African-American president–whose hopes and goals were blocked by individuals who made no secret of their intention to block anything positive that he suggested. And he and his family were subject to racial epithets that came directly from the time of slavery.

And now we have an administration that has called people of color names that no one should be called. People of a non-Christian faith have been demonized and refused entry. Others who are fleeing persecution–just as many of the early American settlers did–are being denied a hearing and, in fact, are often being forced into internment camps.

And most recently, critically ill children who were brought to this country legally are now being told that their permission to stay here is withdrawn–without any medical evaluation–and told that they must leave or be forcibly deported. The medical care they need is found only here–and forcing them to leave is sentencing them to death.

Is this who we are?

Really?

We have taken pride in considering ourselves as a leader of the free world…as a “light on a hill”…as a place of safety and asylum. But our actions in the past have said otherwise…and our current actions definitely say otherwise.

So who are we, really? I’m not sure I know any more.

Conservative friends, I don’t hate you!

I disagree with you, but that doesn’t mean I hate you. It simply means that we are looking at things from different perspectives.

I know that makes it difficult in this polarized political climate–but often, when I post questions, it truly is in an attempt to understand you…or to try to help you understand me.

I want desperately for us to find some common ground, because I know we both care about people and about this earth we live on. And we have to find common ground somehow, or neither of us will survive.

Sometimes you’ve gotten angry with the things I post. I understand that. Sometimes I’ve gotten angry at the things you post as well. But again…that doesn’t mean that I hate you.

Sometimes you’ve thought that I’m being judgmental about your faith. No, that’s not what I mean. I simply don’t understand how to put together your stated belief in One who spent time with the marginalized and oppressed–and your support for an administration that seems determined to do all they can to harm the already marginalized and oppressed. I am trying to understand…I really am. But it’s difficult.

I know many of you have a strong belief in the Divine. And I know you do a lot of good things. I’m grateful for both of those things I know about you.

But here’s where I struggle…and this is what keeps us apart so much of the time. Please understand that I really am not trying to be judgmental. I’m just confused because this is how I see some things:

You say that fiscal conservatism is important, that we need to be careful about our spending. Yet it seems that you are okay with proposed cuts to programs that provide safety nets for the vulnerable in order to pay for big tax cuts for the wealthy.

You care for the environment, yet this administration seems to be gutting policies that protect the environment.

You say that all people are important and created in God’s image. Yet if they appear different from us (in color, gender or sexual orientation, religion), it seems to be acceptable to treat them differently…to separate families and treat their children in ways we would not want our own children or grandchildren to be treated. I am not talking policy here–just how we treat people as they are “in process.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ communities have been incredibly marginalized and persecuted in the past. Fairly recently there have been laws and policies that provide them the same rights heterosexuals have–but now those laws and policies are being withdrawn…and they are again vulnerable and marginalized.

You have taught me values–values of morality and good behavior. Yet you support a president who boasts about sexual assaults…who has cheated on his multiple wives…who mocks those who don’t agree with him and encourages his supporters to violently attack them…who consistently lies…who ignores the Constitution and has attacked our allies while supporting those who run their countries in ways that we were appalled at in the past. None of that behavior would be condoned by the values you taught me.

I don’t hate you. Nor do I hate President Trump.

do hate how we have allowed ourselves to be so divided that it is difficult to even raise these issues with each other to try to find common ground.

I hope we can talk.

 

 

 

Light in the darkness

There’s a wonderful parable that goes like this:

An old king had three sons–all good and wise men who would make good leaders. The old king wanted to ensure that his kingdom continued to succeed, but he wasn’t sure which son to name as heir.

Finally he decided that the best thing to do was to present the sons with a challenge. He called them before the court and said this: “There are no limits to what the future holds for us as we use the riches of the past and build on the foundations that have been laid for us. But a great leader must know how to make the best use of the means at his disposal to create growth and wealth and ultimately benefit the people of his kingdom. In order to determine who that leader should be, each prince will be given one bronze coin [the lowest coin in the currency] to buy what they choose to fill an empty room in my palace.”

The princes started their search. On the appointed day, they returned, ready to prove their fitness to be king. The first son had used his coin to buy empty barrels and filled them with water. He poured each of them into the room and watched as the water filled the room halfway.

The second son had used his to buy all of a farmer’s hay. The wagons rolled forward and the hay was unloaded into the room, filling it three quarters of the way full.

The third son walked into the room and stood quietly as it was cleared of the hay. He had no barrels or wagons…no boxes or carriages. The king wasn’t sure this son had taken the quest seriously and asked if he had brought anything with his single coin. The prince reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. He pulled a match out of the box and striking the side, lit a match, immediately illuminating the entire room.

Quietly he said, “Yes, I did…and I decided to fill this room with light.”

Each one of us walks in darkness at different times and in different ways. But each of us also has the opportunity to bring light into the darkness.

It doesn’t matter what has caused the darkness. Nor does it matter whether we think what will do or say will make any difference…it will.

Because I follow the One called Christ, I believe that he is the light-bringer…and that he also calls us to be witnesses and light-bringers. The Message says it this way (John 1:1-5):

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

Whether you follow him in the same way I do–or whether you follow others who have also been light-bringers–may we be witnesses, bringing light that cannot be put out into the dark places of our world.

See the source image

Not called to “Christianity nice”

I think many of us grew up in a time when a popular statement was “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything.” That applied in all of our relationships–including our spiritual ones.

I don’t disagree with that statement. I think it is important to look for the positives.

But…

Sometimes that statement is used to shut down dialogue–dialogue that it is important to have. And I find that happening in too many of our faith traditions. We want to have “Christianity nice”–to not have to grapple with the kind of real-world issues and challenges that I believe we are called to face.

M. Scott Peck, in his book The Different Drum says that organizations have to deal with those challenges. Otherwise they get stuck in “pseudo-community”–where everyone plays nice…where issues get swept under the rug and never dealt with. He says that getting to true community requires organizations to go through chaos and emptiness on the way–and that’s not an easy process.

My faith tradition believes in prophetic leadership given to the church pretty regularly. In 2007, this was the counsel given:

Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s shalom, invites all people to come and receive divine peace in the midst of the difficult questions and struggles of life. Follow Christ in the way that leads to God’s peace and discover the blessings of all of the dimensions of salvation….

The restoring of persons to healthy or righteous relationships with God, others, themselves, and the earth is at the heart of the purpose of your journey as a people of faith.

You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

Jesus did not shy away from confronting injustice. And neither should we…even if that means being uncomfortable

The worth of all people…

My faith tradition has what we call Enduring Principles–ideals that we try to live up to. There are a number of them

  • Grace and Generosity
  • Sacredness of Creation
  • Continuing Revelation
  • Worth of All Persons
  • All Are Called
  • Responsible Choices
  • Pursuit of Peace (Shalom)
  • Unity in Diversity
  • Blessings of Community

The one that has been on my mind a lot recently is the one that talks about the worth of all persons. Each principle has some short statements related to the overall principle; the worth of all persons says this:

  • God views all people as having inestimable and equal worth.
  • God wants all people to experience wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.
  • We seek to uphold and restore the worth of all people individually and in community, challenging unjust systems that diminish human worth.
  • We join with Jesus Christ in bringing good news to the poor, sick, captive, and oppressed.

So what does that principle mean in our current time in history?

For me, it speaks directly to the challenges we in the United States (as well as in other countries) are facing as we deal with issues of immigration.

If I say that I believe all people have worth, then that means all people, no matter their ethnicity, origin, gender, skin color, sexual identity or orientation…or any other the other ways we separate ourselves.

It means all people, regardless of whether they are citizens of my country, legal residents, or undocumented individuals.

If I truly believe that, then I must become more understanding of those who are fleeing situations of violence…and trying to find places of healing.

If I believe that…if I believe that is part of my calling as a minister who follows Christ, then I have no choice but to challenge systems, policies, and actions that say that some are “less than” others.

If I believe that all people are of worth, that includes those I might disagree with. I still see them as beloved children of the One who created us all.

There are no exceptions. None.

I wonder what would happen if we based our lives on that belief…if we had leaders in governments who believed that. How would we interact with each other? How much different would our world be?

Some might say that’s impossible…I don’t. Difficult? Oh yes. But until (and unless) we believe that all people have worth, we will continue to struggle. Not just with issues of immigration but with all of our relationships.